Existential Anxiety: One’s attempt at understanding life

Who are we? Why are we here? What’s the point? 

These are some questions that all of humanity has to grapple with at some point in their lives. 

Existential anxiety is the anxiety that accompanies the thoughts associated with the big picture. If you feel discontent and sad about there being no point to life, it all being the same mundane thing over and over again, welcome to the existential anxiety club. So let’s talk about it! 

The pandemic was a difficult time for us all. The events that unfolded impact us all as a culture, and as individuals too. It exacerbated the despair and left us all confused and scared. Witnessing and experiencing grief on a level that unfortunately at that time felt like the new normal. 

Who am I?

Existential anxiety is the stress and worry that we encounter when we step back and ask the big picture questions like- 

  • Why am I Here?
  • What’s the meaning of life?
  • What’s the point of anything?
  • Are we really free?

And the lack of a valid answer that makes us more anxious and worried. It’s important to remember that it’s not the questions that cause us the discomfort, but the despair that follows.

What do I look like?

If you had a That’s-what-it’s-called! Moment while reading, then you know it is difficult to identify existential anxiety. Existential anxiety may look harmless, but if left unchecked can severely affect the quality of our lives. Some major themes vis-a-vis existential anxiety and what it may look like are as follows:-

  • The fact that life is so uncertain and unpredictable can be despairing. If life is uncertain, and anything can happen at any time, why make any effort? 
  • Meaning and purpose. Two words that send a chill down any spine. Why are we here? What is the meaning of it all? 
  • How terrible the condition of the world around us! And we are so helpless, we can’t do anything about it. Endless wars being fought, countless people living without the basic necessities. 
  • We are all alone in this world. Nobody can ever truly understand another person. We were born alone and shall leave alone.
  • We are all gonna die one day. So what’s the point of doing anything? We might die tomorrow. Who knows?

It’s completely natural to have these thoughts. When these thoughts render us so anxious that we’re incapable of functioning normally is when these natural existential thoughts turn into existential anxiety.

How am I Solved?

How do we counteract these? 

Well, if nothing means anything and we’re all gonna die one day anyway, then we can do whatever we want! Be whoever we want! 

We can pursue our passions and cultivate ourselves because if we are all going to die one day, we might as well enjoy right now!  We all know how rom-com movies are gonna end, but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying the journey, does it? We can ask ourselves questions like:

  • Since I am free to choose and decide, how would I like to spend my time?
  • Even though the world can be a wretched place, what little can I do to improve it?
  • Yes, life is short and unpredictable, but what can I do to make my own meaning?
  • Does life’s meaning have to be grand, all encompassing and just one? Can it be numerous little things in my day??
  • Is it fair to let when we die completely define how we live?
  • Even if nobody can truly understand me, can’t I still have meaningful bonds? Can’t a fruitful and satisfying bond be formed without complete understanding?

Such questions acknowledge our existential thoughts instead of invalidating them and channels them into working for us, instead of paralyzing us in the face of life’s grandeur. 

Uncle Ben’s first law of morality, aka, with great power comes great responsibility, applies to freedom as well. 

Since we are free to do whatever we please, and however we please it, this bestows us with an immense and delicate power to do as we please. 

Then what holds society together? What stops everything from devolving into anarchic apocalypse? Responsibility! Just because we can do anything, doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility for our actions. 

Therefore, in theory, you can cheat on an exam, or your partner, but the responsibility of it lies on your shoulders. If we have complete freedom in our actions, then that implies that we are absolutely responsible for our actions.

Furthermore, limitations and rules don’t limit us. They tell us our boundaries! During the pandemic when the curfews and limitations were introduced, it didn’t limit us, it told us what we were free to do! And how to go about doing it. 

So if the curfew was from 11pm-6am, it meant we could be out and about between 6am and 11pm! Limitations to our freedom emancipate us, it tells us what we’re free to do.

Living is anxiety inducing. A test, a decision, a relationship, all these and more have an element of uncertainty attached to it. 

Where there’s uncertainty, there will be anxiety.

 The best we can do is make sure that the anxiety works for us, not against us. Anxiety, like all our other emotions, are like little tools in our utility belts. They helped our ancestors survive and serve a similar function for us.

It is as understandable as it is unrealistic to have the need for surety. So, accepting anxiety and moving forward can drastically improve our quality of life!  

We’re all tiny specks, on a tiny rock, in a giant universe that is ever expanding, and that’s a wonderful thing! 

We’re all broken leaves in the wind, blowing whichever way the wind blows but we can choose to do it with grace and poise! Existence isn’t consensual, but living a good life can be.

 I hope you, the reader, choose life. 

If you or somebody you know struggles due to one or more of the attitudes/behaviors mentioned above, please reach out to us for professional help.